Israel has approved an additional 560 housing units to be constructed as part of its illegal settlement-building initiative in occupied East Jerusalem. The announcement comes 48 hours after Donald Trump took office as the 45th US president.
Israel Radio talked to the Chairman of Jerusalem city hall’s Planning and Building committee, Meir Turgeman, who said the permits had been in the works, but delayed until Barack Obama was out of office.
“I was told to wait until Trump takes office because he has no problem with building in Jerusalem,” Turgeman told Israel Radio, adding that there were hundreds more units awaiting approval.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told Reuters: “We strongly condemn the Israeli decision to approve the construction.”
After new approval was granted, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he had decided to lift restrictions on settlement construction in East Jerusalem.
“There is no longer a need to coordinate construction in the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. We can build where we want and as much as we want,” the PM’s office statement read, Reuters reported.
Netanyahu also said he wants to allow construction of Israeli settlement on all Palestinian territories, which Israel has occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War.
“My vision is to enact sovereignty over all the settlements,” the statement added.
Obama – especially towards the end of his presidency – was critical of Israel’s settlement expansion on the grounds that it was destructive to regional peace and risked derailing a stable two-state solution. In his final weeks as president, he had to explain to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu why the US had withheld its traditional UN veto to block a new resolution condemning the illegal settlements. The American veto has protected Israel a great number of times before.
Trump, on the other hand, may take a different line, as he edges US policy closer to Israel – most crucially, with plans to relocate the embassy of the United States from Tel Aviv to disputed Jerusalem. This has been welcomed warmly by the Israelis, while sending shock waves throughout the Arab world – with Jordan openly declaring that the move may lead to an explosion in radical Islamism, and Palestine threatening to revoke its recognition of the Israeli state.
Israel’s final approval of the new building permits was issued Sunday, marking a 180-degree reversal in Washington’s policy toward Tel Aviv. But settlement-building was unlikely to stop anyway, given that in 2016 it was revealed that hundreds of projects were still in the pipeline, to be built in the coming years.
The current projects, according to Reuters, had been taken off the agenda in December at the last minute, following Netanyahu’s orders not to anger outgoing US President Barack Obama.
But Israeli right-wingers expect Trump to be far more cooperative on the matter.
Israel has been building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank since 1967. The Palestinians believe East Jerusalem to be theirs. But Israel has been forcefully denying Palestinians the territory.
The construction of these settlements, illegal under international law, has been the subject of growing controversy, mounting criticism from the international community, and a deteriorating security situation between Israelis and desperate Palestinians.
According to Netanyahu, he will discuss the latest with Trump over the phone on Sunday.
“Many matters face us, the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the situation in Syria, the Iranian threat,” the Israeli PM said.
Two days ago, the energy and infrastructures minister, Yuval Steinirt, said in an interview to Army Radio that “we are all praying that, alongside his sense of humor and colorful personality, Trump will understand the weight of responsibility lying on his shoulders and will turn out to be a courageous and serious president.”
He added, “I very much hope and believe that he will move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.”